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May 08

Shahid Chattar they call it: A collective analysis

I suddenly woke from sleep, my hands clammy, my breath shallow, coming out in short rapid bursts. It was a bad dream. A very bad one. I dreamt that I was sleeping under the open skies of Motijheel near Shapla Chottor and that the police had suddenly started firing above me. As my eyes fluttered open, I found my father shaking me frantically. I was on my bed, safe at home. It took me a while to comprehend what he was telling me. “Police Shapla Chottor e guli korse! Diganta bondo koira disey!” / “Police have fired at Shapla Chottor! They have closed down Diganta!”. Heart pumping, I jumped awake and looked at the clock. Four forty five (4:45 am) it showed. It took some time to let the gravity of the news to sink in as I flicked the TV channels. There was no Diganta. TV channels were showing Hefazat members raising their hands and exiting the Motijheel premises. A reporter at Shomoy TV was extolling the role of security forces at the Square, where he praised their efficiency in tackling the situation and their kindness in letting the Hefazat minors exit to a ‘safe destination’ via the only route kept open out of four points. The footage showed tired men and children, some injured and others bleeding, and many in torn and stained clothes, all walking away, their faces forlorn and wearing an utterly defeated look. Their eyes radiated looks of desperation that brought to mind images of POW’s being deported to POW camps. As the enormity of what happened struck me, I simply sat on the chair, head in my hands.
They named it Shaheed Chattar. Shaheed, ‘شهيد’ is a simple word, a mere congregation of four Arabic alphabets as evidenced by its etymological origins. Together they connote the concept of an exalted status that is synonymous with an ultimate sacrifice for a selfless cause. They called it Shaheed Chattar. It appeared that the price paid for being part of history rose by the hour. What started as a portrayal of a routine exercise to peacefully evict adamant protesters (where no one was supposedly even remotely injured) ultimately turned into a full blooded massacre as details continued to emerge.

The accounts paint a nauseating if not outright terrible picture.

Human Rights Watch in Bangladesh has published a blog report entitled “A massacre at Motijheel by the Ruling Party in Bangladesh“.

“In the ab-sence of the conditions for traditional investigative reporting we build a picture of what is available. One informant, curious to see events for himself, late last night reported a war zone with the police firing and ruling party thugs being handed the wounded to beat. He reflected that what he saw resem-bled what he had heard about the Pakistan Army launching a crackdown on the Awami League 43 years ago. The protesters congregated around the Water Lily monument at the centre of the Motijeel district. They set up for the night, firm in the conviction that they would stay until their concerns with sufficiently addressed. At 0230 am the ‘security’ apparatus broke the night with its clearing operation, dispersing a sleeping crowd of hundreds of thousands with tear gas, gun fire and more primitive savagery. It would appear that the police, the disgraced rebranded Bangladesh Rifles and no shortage of armed Awami League thugs are primarily responsible for the killings that took place on Sunday and in the early hours of Monday. The extent of the media blackout is unprecedented in recent years. Opposition Diganta and Islamic TV channels were raided by the UK-trained Rapid Action Battalion. Mirroring the chilling accounts of the much remembered Operation Searchlight from the night of 25th March 1971 in which the Pakistan government lost much of its legitimacy, the government reportedly busied itself with carting away the evidence and the bodies. As the morning drew to noon, the events of the night met recognition even from elements of the secular liberal establishment. The BBC was reporting only seven dead well into the morning, and mirrored the government line of extremists and non lethal weaponry Sources from nearer to the suffering have given death tolls of 431 (religious scholars) , 1700 (Bashekella) and 2500 (a leak from CID).”
The Asian Human Rights Commission, in its report entitled “Bangladesh: A massacre of demonstrators“, had the following to say:
News reports from Bangladesh allege that a series of attacks on demonstrators have taken place, at around 3am today, May 6, 2013. The extent of the injuries and death is difficult to be ascertained at the moment. However, several internet reports have mentioned that the number of deaths could be as high as 2,500 or more. Pictures of dead bodies have also been distributed over the internet. Major news channels in Bangladesh have been silenced. Two private television channels that were showing live pictures of the attacks upon the demonstrators were immediately closed down. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has learned that the security forces, including the Border Guards Bangladesh, the Rapid Action Battalion and the Police, started a massive crackdown on the demonstrators of the Hefazat-E-Islamearly morning on Monday. According to unverified information the AHRC has received, a huge number of lives have already been lost. Numerous victims have been shot at close range by the state agencies. It appears that the international community stationed in Dhaka is fully aware of the brutal crackdown and the wanton extrajudicial execution happening within Dhaka and in the outskirts of the city. Graphic pictures [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] and audiovisual records [ Video 1] [Video 2]are available through the social media, from unverified sources, that reveal the deadly reality on the ground. It is reported that the security forces are using heavy artillery, which are normally used in the war fronts.”

This was a status update by Shams Adduha Mohammad, founding and current Director of Ebrahim College in the UK.
OK, update on Bangladesh based on a phone call this morning with friends in BD. These are ulama who I studied with, visit regularly, and trust completely. Deaths of 2000 to 3000 is based on estimation. The estimation is based on the following points from eye witness account of friends I know personally who escaped the scene (shapla square) alive and have made it home to Sylhet.
 
1. Several thousand Hefazothe demonstrators had decided to spend the night on the square based a spontaneous decision by leaders on the day. This is something they had warned would happen if their demands were not met.
2. While they slept rough on and around the square, they were awoken by the sound of tanks and helicopter/s and gunfire. They awoke to find themselves surrounded by security forces. (government admits 10k forces).  
3. The forces opened fire from above and below. Rubber, live ammo, various grenades the lot. Some witnesses even report people being run over by vehicles as they struggled to get up and run. Others simply knocked out by stun/sound grenades.
4. There was so much gunfire, it was like a battleground. (this u can confirm from the media footage shown here on UK channels). Sounds like helmand.
5. People scattered running in to buildings and alleyways while others were shot. My friends who this report is from, ran up into a hotel building who’s owner kindly gave them refuge while the shooting continued below. They travelled as a group of around 9-10, only half have made it back. The others are thus far missing.
6. After the shooting, bodies were loaded on to trucks and taken away.
7. The area was then promptly hosed down by the fire trucks that were part of the convoy. Some have reported the area being sprinkled with something first. 
The high number of victims propagated is inferred from these realities on the ground reported by hundreds of eye witnesses who escaped. I’ve now heard exactly the same account several times over from different people. Most people are grieving today and trying to trace those missing and collate reports of those who are believed to be dead. This is suffering delays due to further strikes by the opposition coalition. Now, forget how many, It’s definitely not 30 as the mainstream media is reporting. Draw your own conclusions from the above as to how many it could be and the severity and sheer magnitude of this atrocity.  Among those missing are senior ulama, many of whom regularly visit the UK. Some have been arrested while others are believed to be dead. No bodies have been found or reported as of yet.”
The human rights organization Odhikar, in its detailed press statement, issued the following,
“That night, the law enforcement agencies began by removing media people from the area and shutting down the power supply. They opened fire in the dark with live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets and threw tear gas shells and sound grenades indiscriminately at the unarmed leaders and activists of Hefazate Islam, many of whom were sleeping after the day-long programme. It was obvious that they wanted to hide the brutality of the operation and the numbers of dead and injured. It has been reported that hundreds of people were killed as a result of this attack.  Hefazat-e-Islam claimed that more than 2000 people were killed and thousands were injured. Odhikar is trying to ascertain the actual number of deaths, but it is very difficult at this stage without substantial evidence. Despite this, the nature of the operation and the information received so far from the survivors, shows that the number could be very large.”
Esteemed blogger fugstar on his blog has compiled a list of resources that detail and point to the various facets of the massacre at Shapla Chottor in order to provide a stable reference point.
It is notable that the actions of the government have drawn flak as well from esteemed brands of journalism and humanity, the Economist and Ban Ki moon, Secretary General of the UN, respectively. 
The Daily Star has tried in its own way has tried to refute the claims of all the above in a news analysis article with a self explanatory heading, “Shapla Chattar and the act of Houdini“, that seeks to raise valid points on the simple principle of “no see, no believe”. To the esteemed writer I have only question; How much more blood do you need to see to believe that living breathing specimens of humanity died?
I was there in Shapla Chattar on 5th May during the day. In course of time, I shall be providing personal accounts in order to provide glimpses of the situation as my eyes eyes saw and ears heard.